Archbishop Lépine (left) and Archbishop Miller (right) Catholic Register file photos

‘We have to get to the bottom of this’: Archbishop Lépine

By 
  • April 3, 2019

The Archdiocese of Montreal and four smaller dioceses within its ecclesiastical province have enlisted a former judge to conduct an external audit of files on the sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1950.

The move is unusual in Canada, where dioceses have generally kept audits internal. Several American dioceses have also launched external audits in the wake of last summer’s Pennsylvania Grand Jury report that exposed thousands of cases of sexual assault that were covered up.

Retired judge Anne-Marie Trahan has been commissioned to examine the diocese’s archives to assess the number and nature of well-founded allegations of sexual abuse made against clergy and lay personnel over the past 70 years, the archdiocese announced March 27.

“If we want to move forward with the good that is in most members of the Church, we need to look at the past,” said Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine in an interview posted to YouTube. “Sometimes it’s like a wound. You need to open the wound if you want it to be cured.”

Lépine said the clear focus has to be on listening to the victims and not protecting the Church.

“If we’re going to move forward, we have to get to the bottom of this. It might get worse before it gets better, but we need to get there.”

Trahan, a former justice of the Quebec Superior Court, accepted the mandate to investigate Church files after gaining assurances she would have access to all the pertinent records and that her conclusions would be published when the process was done. Lépine is in full agreement.

“We all wish to prioritize transparency and to get to the bottom of things in the search for truth,” he said.

Trahan, 72, was a Quebec Superior Court judge from 1994 until retiring in 2010. She is also a member of the Order of Malta, a lay Catholic order known for its humanitarian projects around the world.

Besides Montreal, the other dioceses participating in the review are Joliette, Saint- Jean-Longueuil, Saint Jerome and Valleyfield. Each retains its own archive.

The audit will begin in September and is expected to take between 18 and 24 months.

A number of Canadian dioceses have or will soon be conducting similar audits, but outside of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, these have been internal audits. Edmonton is having its accrediting agency — Praesidium Inc. — complete an audit of all records regarding sexual abuse by clergy, though terms of reference of the audit have yet to be established and a timeline to be determined.

The Diocese of London conducted an internal audit in 2002, shortly after Bishop Ronald Fabbro became head of the diocese, and has had a Safe Environment Policy in place since 1989 which is regularly updated, said diocesan communications officer Nelson Couto. In the years before Fabbro’s arrival, a number of priests in the diocese were accused, and convicted, of abusing minors and a number of lawsuits against the diocese are still pending.

In Vancouver, Archbishop J. Michael Miller said a case review committee — including abuse survivors, experts in civil and canon law, clergy and religious — has been established to “examine thoroughly” cases of clergy abuse in the archdiocese and ways to improve policies and procedures. Its work will continue into the spring.

Meanwhile, Saskatoon is in the process of updating its policies and protocols, part of which will include the establishment of an independent case review committee which will conduct an archival review process. And on the east coast, a spokesperson for Halifax- Yarmouth Archbishop Anthony Mancini said the archbishop was not aware of any dioceses in the Atlantic provinces releasing records to the public.

Neil MacCarthy, Director, Public Relations and Communications with the Archdiocese of Toronto, said the archdiocese will “review their approach in light of our own protocol as we learn more” and “there are no plans at this time to follow a similar approach.” He said there remains a protocol in place to report instances of abuse.

The Canadian bishops have been at the forefront of developing policy around sexual abuse of minors. The world’s first wide-ranging and highly-public clergy abuse scandal was in the late 1980s at Mount Cashel Orphanage run by the Christian Brothers of Ireland in St. John’s, NL.

The Canadian bishops’ conference was the first national conference to issue guidelines for investigating and reporting abuse cases with “From Pain to Hope” in 1992. Those guidelines were updated this past year.


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Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.